Archive for the ‘Human rights’ Category

I’m still knee-deep in my next Iraq piece, so this is a quick one:

Anyone who thinks Obama is wrong to block the release of some 2,000 additional prisoner abuse photographs should ask himself two questions:

  1. Are the photos new?
  2. Do they help in prosecuting those responsible?

If the answer to either question is ‘yes’, then by all means, go ahead and spread them out for all to see. If the answer to both is ‘no’, however, you need to ask yourself another question: How exactly would it be a “blow to transparency and accountability” if a bunch of gratuitous snapshots were not published?

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I’m afraid those still in denial about what CIA interrogators were authorised to do to their prisoners will have to swallow their pride and read these. I particularly recommend the August 1, 2002 Bybee-to-Rizzo memo, which details, with medieval attention to detail, how Abu Zubaydah was to be tortured. For his side of the story, read the ICRC report here.

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Now that y’all have digested that ICRC report I linked to yesterday, here are the excerpts from my Lynndie England interview I promised:

Q: In war, where do you draw the line on what one can do to one’s prisoners?

A: “I don’t know.”

Is there a line?

“It’s hard to say. It depends on… you have to be in that moment, it’d be your decision to make on how far to go. Killing the guys? No. How’re you gonna get information when they’re dead?”

Was there an element of thinking, these guys deserve it?

“At the time, they had killed some marines of ours, burned their bodies and cut off their heads and dragged them through the streets like they were trash. At that time, in my mind I was thinking, this is nothing compared to what they would do to us if the roles were reversed. Humiliation, some physical, you know, activities, like running. This is nothing. We go through that in basic training. Compared to what they would’ve done to us.”

Do you still think like that?

“Oh yeah.”

But does that make it right?

“Honestly, now, thinking back, I don’t think it was enough. People say to me sometimes, you should’ve just shot them, you wouldn’t have gotten in any trouble, but because you humiliated them and took some pictures of them, that’s ten times worse than killing them.”

What do you mean by “it wasn’t enough”?

“It’s just the way people describe it to me now.”

So you just played with them?

“What we did was to prep them, to get them physically and mentally exhausted so that the interrogation guys would get what information they needed out of them, and that’s what we did. We didn’t, like, cut their hands off, or cut their fingers off or something. There’s definitely so much worse that we could’ve done but we didn’t.”

Is humiliation torture?

“Yeah. It’s mental torture.”

“Obama would have negotiated”

Who did you vote for?

“I don’t vote. Obviously I don’t like Bush. He badmouthed me on TV and all that shit. I believe that after 9/11 we shoulda gone and pursued Bin Laden and stuff, but then going into Iraq to try and bring law and order between civilians… I can see the war on terrorism, but the war on Iraq… I didn’t agree with it.”

Do you think that would’ve happened on Obama’s watch?

“I dunno. Obviously we would’ve done something in retaliation, we would’ve gone and had Bin Laden. But I don’t think we would’ve spent five years in one country that had its own civil disturbances to be dealt with not by us. I think Obama probably would have negotiated with other countries, if, like, he knew other terrorists were in that country. He wouldn’t just go and push his way through like Bush would. He would negotiate, and if third guys in that country caught them, he could negotiate with them and they would turn them over or something. I could see that happening. But with Bush, he would probably try that approach but he wouldn’t be real persistent about it.”

So you think the whole chain of command knew what was going on in Abu Ghraib?

“Yeah. I mean, at the time I didn’t, I was like, okay, whatever. But now, looking back at all the facts and what not, it don’t seem possible for them not to. They were writing all the memos about what was allowed and what was not. Well, hello! What was all that for if they didn’t know what was going on?”

“Those that had information deserved it”

If you look back at Abu Ghraib now, whose fault was it?

“What do you mean?”

If you look at what happened, and if you try to put blame on somebody, who would it be? Would you blame yourself, or would you blame the system…?

“For the scandal?”

For the whole thing, yeah.

“I’d say the main thing I regret the most is the pictures being taken. And the only reason we were taking pictures was because Graner started that. I could lay the blame on Graner, I’d have no problem with that. But I know it’s not all his fault. Although he did, like Sabrina, have an obsession with taking pictures. And if you didn’t have your picture taken, it probably wouldn’t have been a big deal to anybody. Everyone knew what was going on in the prison, the officers, the NCOs, but when the pictures come out, they were like no, I’ve never seen that before, even though they had that same picture on their laptop an hour before. Of course they’d wiped it clean, but… Yeah.”

But do you ever think back and think that, not about the photos but about the stuff that was done to the guys, the humiliation, do you ever think back and think that this is definitely not something we should have done?

“Well, you know, yeah, I think about it. But like I said before… Remember when you asked me if I thought that torture was necessary, and I said yes, for certain detainees you needed the information from ’cause you know they know. Well, obviously, yeah, I think the ones that had the information we needed deserved it, it needed to be done. Because at the time, I’m thinking, we’re told to do this, we’re getting pats on the back, good job, keep up the good work and blah blah blah, so I’m thinking apparently nobody has a problem with this and it’s okay.”

So in other words you regret the photos but you don’t regret the stuff that was done to them?


“I killed a lot of people”

Former Navy general counsel Alberto Mora has said: “There are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq — as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat — are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.” What do you say to that?

“I can see why they might say that. I guess it fueled hatred towards Americans. I used to get a lot of hate mail saying I’m the one who caused a lot of deaths and beheadings and that I should just kill myself. I still think about that. When people ask me did you ever kill anybody, I say, yeah, I killed a lot of people, not directly but indirectly.”

[The story itself is more of a psychological portrait than a quote-based interview piece. It’s in worldwide syndication by the New York Times Syndicate, so I can’t reproduce it here. I’ll make sure to link to it, though, once it surfaces somewhere. In case you want to practise your Finnish, my magazine’s website is here.]

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The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

ICRC Report on the Treatment of Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody by the International Committee of the Red Cross

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As the chief Khmer Rouge torturer goes on trial today in Phnom Penh for crimes against humanity, we’d do well to remember a little bit of history. The Khmer Rouge may have been an indigenous movement, but the collapse of the Cambodian state and the resulting cataclysm were brought about by outside catalysts — an American military incursion and bombing campaign, and North Vietnamese support to the Khmer Communists.

This is something worth keeping in mind when mulling over the pros and cons of bombing al-Qaeda and Taleban sanctuaries in Pakistan. Cambodia’s history should be ample evidence that it is quite possible to kill a whole country by accident.

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The bus doors opened, the escort teams were lined up right next to the bus to take the detainees off the bus and put them in the holding area. You could hear the Marines screaming at them ‘Shut the fuck up! You’re property of the United States of America now.’ We were not allowed to step onto the bus. The Marines would push them towards us down the bus stairs and we would catch them. The first person who got off the bus, I will never forget. It was a man with one leg. He was later called Stumpy by everyone. I don’t know his name, but he was around 5’7 and at least 250lbs. He was the biggest guy we had for a long time. Grabbed by the escorting MPs, Stumpy was jumping on one leg, MPs screaming at him to walk faster towards the holding area when, from inside the bus, someone threw his prosthetic leg out onto the ground.

Former Guantanamo guard SPC Brandon Neely, describing the arrival of the first prisoners on January 11, 2002

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I realise these are early days, and we don’t yet have all the information, but this business of the Obama administration invoking the state-secrets privilege is not good.

A guy is kidnapped, tortured and detained for years without charge, and when he tries to take his case to court, he is promptly told to go fuck himself by a representative of the most liberal Justice Department the country has seen in decades.

Not surprisingly, Greenwald and Horton are up in arms, as is Senator Russ Feingold, who has asked for a classified briefing so that he can “understand the reasons for this decision.”

This is all well and good, but just so we won’t forget what’s really at stake — what actually resulted from the extraordinary rendition that Obama now feels is a state secret –, here’s how Binyam Mohamed described to his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith what was done to him by Moroccan interrogators in August 2002, according to the book Ghost Plane by Stephen Grey:

‘Strip him,’ shouted Marwan. They cut off my clothes with some kind of doctor’s scalpel. I was naked. I tried to put on a brave face. But maybe I was going to be raped. Maybe they’d electrocute me, maybe castrate me. They took the scalpel to my right chest. It was only a small cut, maybe an inch. At first I just screamed… I was just shocked, I wasn’t expecting… Then they cut my left chest. This time I didn’t want to scream because I knew it was coming.

Marwan got agitated at this. ‘Just go ahead with the plan,’ he said.

One of them took my penis in his hand and began to make cuts. He did it once, and they stood still for maybe a minute, watching my reaction. I was in agony, trying desperately to suppress myself, but I was screaming. I remember Marwan seemed to smoke half a cigarette, throw it down, and start another. They must have done this 20 to 30 times, in maybe two hours. There was blood all over.

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